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Tensions Rise Between ANC, Alliance Partner Over Zuma Candidacy

A decision by South Africa's Congress of South African Trade Unions to endorse former deputy president Jacob Zuma to become president of the African National Congress has prompted outrage from the ruling party. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our bureau in Johannesburg the development has heightened existing tensions between the alliance partners.

The African National Congress said in a statement, COSATU's decision to endorse Zuma at the ANC conference in December is an insulting and unacceptable attempt to tell the ANC how it should constitute its leadership. Speaking later on national radio, spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama said it is only ANC members who have a say in choosing their leaders.

"COSATU - its members [are] of the ANC. We do believe that COSATU is comprised of generally many members of the African National Congress who are highly, highly disciplined [and] who are cadres of the ANC," said Ngonyama. "And we are also aware that even amongst the unions, the majority of the unions were not agreed with this very, very arrogant and divisive position."

There has been growing tension between the ruling party and its alliance partners - COSATU and the South African Communist Party - for more than a decade, mostly over the government's management of the economy. COSATU and the SACP say this policy is unfriendly to workers and the poor.

In addition, COSATU leaders in particular, have been in a bitter personal conflict with President Thabo Mbeki since he fired Zuma as the country's deputy president two years ago.

The South African leader has made himself available for re-election as party president at the national conference in December, in what many see as an attempt to prevent Zuma from getting the post, and thus becoming a serious contender to replace him as president of South Africa in 2009. Mr. Mbeki will himself not be eligible for re-election to the presidency, but as party leader he would be highly influential in who the ANC selects as its candidate.

COSATU general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi said the labor federation fully appreciates it cannot elect the leaders of the ANC. But he said COSATU hopes to influence its members who are also members of the ANC and who will be delegates at the ANC conference. He said it is just too bad that the ANC leadership disagrees with COSATU over the Zuma endorsement.

"Yes I knew that certain people in the ANC would not like that. And yes unfortunately that in this particular circumstance, it is they, the majority, the disciplined, who have decided that this is the best way to go in relation to this matter," said Vavi. "Comrade leadership may not like that, but that is unfortunately the majority [opinion]. And if it is not the majority of the unions who took the decision, then who took it?"

Some analysts say the decision by COSATO may backfire and that many ANC delegates preparing for the conference may share the outrage of their leaders. Already many ANC leaders and members are advocating that delegates to the conference find a way of finding a compromise candidate for the top party job; someone that all factions can live with. The analysts note there a half dozen or so suitable individuals; and that it would be in the tradition of the ANC to keep negotiating until a compromise candidate is identified.